Our editor-in-chief, Yaris, and I waited in line for an hour and sat in a crowded, yet spacious, room last year at PAX East to get a glimpse of this promising new RPG called Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. As we sat and watched the 40-minute presentation put on by 38 Studios, we seemed to be picking our jaw up off the floor more times than we could count. When all was said and done, we were rather hyped about the possibilities that the game held out, especially considering talent such as R.A. Salvatore was on board for the ride.
As time went on, 38 Studios and the game’s publisher, Electronic Arts, was so tight they squeaked, all the way through E3 and PAX Prime. They were so tight that, until this demo was released, the majority of press outlets had zero hands-on time with the title. This brought up questions, even from among our own staff, as to what we were getting ourselves into when we delved in to this world. Were they holding back because they were unsure of the product and had a very unfinished, rushed game? After all, it is a new IP and we have certainly seen that scenario before on numerous occasions. I’m happy to say, after spending a couple hours with the demo yesterday, that I don’t believe that will be the case at all.
You begin the demo at what seems like the beginning of the game, with the story revealing a bit of the history of a conflict going on in the land and, of course, the fact that you are dead. One smart gnome has you covered though, for you wake up on a pile of bodies and soon realize that you’ve been brought back to life via a device called the Well of Souls.
Before the story gets too deep, you’re given the option of character creation, and it seems like everything that will be in the final game is in here. You can chose your race and your gender, as well as your characters’ features and name. This is pretty standard stuff. After that, though, the game is anything but standard.
You work your way through this dungeon that houses the Well of Souls, as you’re being attacked by invading forces and the local wildlife (i.e. spiders). Along the way you’re basically given a quick tutorial of the variety of available destinies (classes), as well as a few weapons out of the ones that are available throughout the game. I found myself, while initially drawn to the daggers and stealthy gameplay of the rogue-like character, conforming more toward blasting foes away with magic. So, I donned robes, a staff and a wicked lightning spell and set out to clear the dungeon.
The game plays very much like an action RPG – with a strong emphasis on using your abilities for strategic purposes during fights, especially the boss fight at the end of the dungeon. Dodging and blocking seem mandatory (especially dodging) if you want to survive long enough, however everything works and flows well. The animations and weapon-play look downright amazing, and the subtle artistic nuances during battle toss in that extra spice to really draw you into the game.
After you clear the initial dungeon, you exit into a gorgeous and spacious forest area, which you can spend time exploring. The quest itself takes you to a certain NPC that calls himself a fateweaver, and he explains much to you about how to determine your destines through his drunken haze (which are referred to as classes in most other RPGs). After that encounter the demo announces that you have 45 minutes to explore the area and do what you will. Unlike more linear RPGs, there are huge areas to explore. Sure, you could go from quest marker to quest marker, but what’s the fun in that?
I explored the area for a while, running into bandits and other mobs to fight, as well as many plants to harvest for the purpose of alchemy. At this point I’m really starting to feel like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a cross between Fable and World of Warcraft. It seems to have very similar art direction to Fable, as well as the action-battle element and, of course, the whole RPG thing. On the other hand, the game’s art style and the zone set-up, as well as the harvesting/gathering reminds me a lot of exploring zones in World of Warcraft. Take that as you will.
The art and visuals are simply amazing – much better than the two aforementioned franchises. There are so many things to see and do just in the first few minutes after exiting from the initial dungeon that you may very well spend the majority of your time off gallivanting on side missions and exploration expeditions instead of following the main quest markers.
There is a lot to love here, and the demo really only scratched the surface. It felt very polished and definitely up to release quality. While I have a couple very minor reservations, I think, for the time being anyway, the doubts we may have had going in can be laid to rest. If the entire game is of the quality of this demo or better, EA and 38 Studios may have another hit RPG on their hands that, surprisingly, doesn’t have the BioWare name attached to it, which is a rarity these days.
You also get the added bonus of unlocking some items for both the full game itself, as well as Mass Effect 3, if you play the demo. Some items unlock immediately; some you unlock as you go through the demo. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning hits store shelves on February 7, 2012. You might as well clear your calendar now.